I arrived in Loulé on a Saturday morning for the start of my Loulé 5 day tour, and day 4 of my Algarve tour. I was immediately
taken by the sight of Loulé’s Market and its bright red domes. Before stopping here, I continued driving to Loulé’s gipsy market. The gipsy market is held every Saturday opposite the Convento de Santo António. If you like hunting for bargains, this is the place for you. From second-hand clothes to handmade jewellery, there is a plethora of items on offer.
I left the fair and after a short drive I parked the car in front of the Jardim Manuel de Arriaga which faces the Loulé Jardim Hotel, where I’ll be spending the night. The name “garden hotel” seems fitting as you start noticing all the greenery crawling through the lobby. There is a plant vase on the floor near the piano while another pot rests on a table, contrasting against its white top. I’m greeted by the hotel’s staff, who promptly points me to my room after checking in. I leave my bag of clothes and take only the essentials to go and explore the rest of the town.
First off is the city’s most striking landmark - the local market. This market has been around for more than a century, and while its architecture is not exactly the same as it was when the market was first founded in 1908, its purpose remains unaltered - to promote local commerce. From Monday to Saturday, local sellers gather here to present their fresh produce, these include fish, fruit, vegetables, spices and the list goes on… You can even find people selling local crafts such as honeypots and cork bags. Out of its six working days, Saturday morning is by far the height of the week.
As I enter the market, I can't help but smell the fish, but there are other scents that I absorb as I walk past each stall, such as the piri piri peppers that I find pierced together by a thin wire that hangs from the top of the stands. Other sellers try to entice you by offering a free tasting before buying their products - and who can say no to free food?
But if Loulé’s Market was a film, fish would definitely be the main actor. Chopped salmon heads, dry codfish and still-pretty-much-alive crabs, the market offers a great selection of seafood and fishmongers have been Loulé’s idols for decades.
strolling around the market for almost an hour, I stopped at one of the coffee
shops and drank a small-but-strong espresso, before walking to the Convento Espírito Santo, a former convent that currently functions as a university and an art gallery. I took a quick look at the latest exhibition and then headed out again towards the Capela de Nossa Senhora da Conceição.
small chapel was established in the mid-17th century. It seems quite modest on
the outside with its plain white façade, but come inside and you’ll unveil its
treasury. The walls are entirely covered with blue and white tiles and right at
the bottom lies a gilded altar embedded with a series of religious figures. The
see-through glass on the floor allows you to contemplate an Islamic door from
the 2nd century that was found during excavations. It’s these unique features that
make this chapel worth the visit.
For lunch, I picked Restaurante Bocage, a local restaurant that has been serving traditional Algarvean fare since 1984. Grilled dishes are Bocage’s speciality, whether it’s meat or fish there is a grilled version of pretty much everything on the menu. They also have daily specials. Today, they had “Portuguese” pork meat and stewed rabbit. I decided to go for the pork and washed it down with a glass of red wine.
My journey through Loulé was off to a good start and I was
looking forward to seeing the rest of its landmarks.
After lunch, I visited Loulé’s Municipal Museum to learn more
about the council’s past. The museum is actually divided into different hubs
which are spread along the district. The main hub in Loulé’s city centre shows
a traditional kitchen in the Algarve during the mid-20th century. It features a
variety of old kitchen utensils like boards for bread-making, copper pans and a
millstone often used to make corn flour, among other items.
Right behind the museum, I found the Castle of Loulé. This
Moorish building was rebuilt during the 13th century as a fortress and it’s now
one of the city’s main highlights. The original settlement dates back to the
2nd-century A.C when it was occupied by the Romans. Today, part of the castle’s
walls are integrated into a few local buildings around the area. On top of one
of the towers, the Portuguese flag rises up from a white pole waving softly in
continued my tour around town and passed by Igreja de Clemente. Standing in
front of it, I couldn’t help but admire its geometry, the circle window in the
middle and its triangle-shaped doorway. Behind the church, there’s also a bell
tower whose architecture is said to be inspired by the Muslim minarets. The
church itself was established in the 13th century and later restored in the
16th century. Much like the Nossa Senhora da Conceição chapel, this church also
has a golden altarpiece at the rear of the room with a few statuettes.
I stopped by the Artcatto Gallery, one of Loulé’s contemporary art galleries.
Artcatto is usually only open during the week, but you can request to visit on
Saturday as well, which was what I did. The founder, Gillian Catto is a big
name in the London art scene where she ran her own gallery for more than three
decades. Now living in the Algarve, Catto hosts exhibitions with national and
international artists, drawing many art enthusiasts to the city.
Tired from all the walking, I settled down at Café Calcinha, a
historic establishment for the city of Loulé that has witnessed many
generations of residents and outsiders. The poet António Aleixo was one of the
café’s frequent customers and it was here that he wrote several of his poems. I
sat near his statue outside and enjoyed my second cup of coffee accompanied by
a local sweet pastry named “folhado de Loulé”.
I exited the café and made it to Loulé’s Municipal Park right before the sunset. The park is open 24 hours a day, making it the perfect spot for an evening stroll. It has an area for picnics, mini golf, a children’s playground and a walking circuit of around 800m. I found a free bench beneath a hall of trees and sat down reading a book until the streetlights were switched on as if announcing dinner time.
I got up and headed straight to Artigo Três, a modern Japanese restaurant set next to Loulé’s market. Hiroshi and Shogo are the faces behind this traditional sushi bar that opened in early 2017. When they decided to open a restaurant in Europe their main concern was having the best fresh fish and that’s why they settled down in Loulé. The local market is an incredible source of fresh fish and seafood, which are essential ingredients in Japanese cuisine.
The menu at Artigo Três is small but it makes up for it in the quality of ingredients that are on offer. Starting with a delicious miso soup and moving on to the sushi and the sashimi which are always accompanied with ginger and freshly-made wasabi. If you sit near the bar you can watch the chef prepare these delicious and utterly fresh treats before they’re carefully assembled on top of a black chalkboard. I ate slowly, savouring every mouthful of fish and rice until there was nothing else to grab. I finished my last drop of beer, paid the bill and walked back to the hotel.